After changing the SEVENTH poopy diaper of the day, my husband and I started daydreaming of the day when we can start to prepare for potty training and ditch our diapers for good.
While we were busy fantasizing about life without dirty diapers, we asked our 18 month old to “throw your diaper in the garbage.”
He happily waddled to the bathroom, opened the garbage can, and threw it away before waddling back to his coloring book activity at the kitchen table.
It got us thinking…
He’s pretty good at following simple instructions, he clearly doesn’t like being in a dirty or wet diaper for very long, AND he has been holding his bladder longer these days. I know he’s not very old yet, but could we start thinking about how to prepare for potty training??
If you’re also feeling tired of diapers and think your little one might be ready to start prepping for toilet training, keep reading to learn everything you need to know about how to easily prepare for successful potty training.
Discover the tips for:
- When to start potty training
- How to know if it is too early to potty train your child
- What signs to look for to know if your toddler is ready for potty training
- And 13 easy habits to add to your routine to prepare for successful potty training
Then scroll to the bottom to discover what we decided to do with our toddler and our shocking results.
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What age should you start potty training?
There is no specific age to start potty training and recommendations often vary depending on what style you choose to follow.
Elimination communication style of “potty training” can start at birth. Montessori methods often recommend between 12-18 months. And “traditional” potty training recommendations are often to begin between 2-3 years.
Instead of waiting until a specific age to start potty training, try to pay attention to your child and do a little homework beforehand so everyone is ready for the style that works best for you.
Can you potty train too early?
This has been our big question lately because we get a LOT of funny looks when we mention that we’re thinking of starting potty training with our 18 month old.
After reading several different research studies and articles, working with countless other toddler’s during their potty training journey, and listening to my own intuition, I think the answer is that it depends.
If you’re listening to your child’s cues and allowing your child to lead the potty training process, I think you can start as soon as your little one shows interest and signs of potty training readiness.
However, if you are putting a lot of pressure on your child or feeling frustrated if potty training isn’t 100% successful right away, you might benefit from waiting a little longer until your child can better understand the potty training process and move from one step to the next more rapidly.
What is Gentle Potty Training?
I’m not actually sure if this is an official term or style of potty training, but it’s what we are adopting at our house.
To us, gentle potty training means following a natural, gradual process that develops at our child’s pace.
Rather than basing our potty training timeline on our expectations and desires as the parents (no matter how tired of diapers we are), we’re allowing our toddler to progress at his own pace. We’re following his lead as he begins the very natural process of learning how to use the toilet.
How to Prepare for Successful Potty Training
We claim that we haven’t “officially” started potty training yet and instead say that we are in the “pre-potty training phase.”
We’re setting the groundwork and giving our toddler lots of opportunities to explore using the restroom in a low stress environment with plans to naturally transition to the next phase of potty training as our toddler learns and progresses.
If you would like to use a gentle potty training method and start pre-potty training with your toddler too, start adding these 13 habits into your daily routine.
Begin talking about bodily functions from a young age.
As soon as our baby was born, we made a point to talk to him during every diaper change to help him understand what was going on. “You’re wet.” “Your diaper is full.” “You went to the bathroom. Time for a clean diaper.”
Starting these conversations long before you plan to potty train helps your baby to put words to these feelings and will make it easier for your child to communicate bathrooming needs as you begin the potty training process.
No matter how old your baby or toddler is, start using these phrases during every single diaper change to help your baby connect these feelings with the need to go to the bathroom.
Role model going to the bathroom.
Toddlers are masters of watching other people and then copying what they do.
I swear we can’t do anything without our toddler mimicking what we do (both good and bad habits!) and that includes using the bathroom.
As early as you can, begin to role model your own bathroom habits with your toddler and talk through the entire process.
“I feel like I have to go to the bathroom.”
“I am going to the bathroom.”
“Now I need to wipe.”
“Time to flush the toilet.”
“I remember to wash my hands.”
Talking through the process while your baby is in the room (and probably playing in the bathroom cupboards if your little one is anything like ours) provides early exposure about what the toilet is for and reassures your toddler that using the toilet is normal and safe.
And this is key to begin to prepare your child to potty train.
Introduce the potty early.
When our baby first started showing signs of curiosity about the toilet (aka how to flush it), we bought this little potty to add to the bathroom.
Although he was only 12 months old, this gave him the chance to explore the potty, sit on it (usually with clothes for the first few months) while mom and dad went to the bathroom, and read his own little potty book.
Our baby never showed much interest in teaching his stuffed animals how to use the potty, but you can also use this as an opportunity to allow your young toddler to do pretend play to teach her favorite dolls or toys how to use the potty and understand the purpose of the potty.
Change diapers in the bathroom.
As you start to think a little more about setting the foundation for potty training your child, ditch the changing table and start changing all diapers in the bathroom.
This will help your child to connect the dots between peeing and pooing and physically going to the bathroom.
Start to change diapers standing up.
One of the keys to gently preparing your child for potty training is to help your child be as independent as possible.
And one of the best ways to start this is to start changing diapers while your child is standing up.
We remove the diaper (with our toddler doing as much as possible on his own), go to the bathroom on the toilet, and then have our toddler hold onto the tub and stand while we put his diaper back on.
I won’t lie, this is sometimes a little awkward for me to do and I don’t always get the diaper lined up very straight.
You can add a Montessori bar near your toilet to give your baby an easier place to hold on to while you put on his diaper and pants. I also highly recommend Pampers Cruisers 360, which are so much easier to put on during stand-up diaper changes.
Help your child become used to feeling clean and dry.
As early as possible, you want your child to learn the difference between feeling clean and dry versus feeling wet and dirty.
Your goal is to train your baby to prefer a clean and dry diaper and set the expectation that your baby will always be clean and dry.
As early as possible, make it a priority to change your baby’s diaper as soon as he has a wet or dirty diaper. Don’t try to stretch out diapers to save money or reduce the amount of diaper changes during the day because this teaches your child that it is okay to feel wet or dirty.
You might go through a few more diapers, but it’s much better for your baby’s skin and will set you up for more success for early potty training (and fewer diapers in the long run).
Help your child to feel safe and comfortable.
Your toddler is still really small and toilets don’t always fit quite right for little bodies.
This can mean that your toddler doesn’t feel safe or stable and can lead to big challenges with potty training. (To be fair, would you want to sit on the toilet if you constantly felt like you would fall off??)
Take the time to help your child feel as comfortable as possible when going to the bathroom.
This might mean buying a special miniature potty (like this adorable one) that is specifically designed for your toddler’s little body. It could also mean adding a step stool and child’s seat (like this) to help your child feel more stable on the big toilet.
Allow your child to be an active participant in the entire potty training process.
We have seen incredible results from just one week of “pre-potty training” (which you can read about at the bottom of this post) and I think one key to our success is our priority to make our baby an active participant in every part of the potty training journey.
Give your child as many opportunities as possible to make decisions and be involved.
This might mean allowing your toddler to put the potty seat onto the toilet independently, deciding how long to sit on the toilet, wiping by himself, closing the lid, flushing the toilet, opening the toilet to check if everything went down (????), and washing his hands by himself.
Every small step you take to involve your child and encourage independence will help your child to be more motivated in the potty training process and more quickly move to the next phases of successful potty training.
Choose clothes that are easy to remove and start to teach your child how to undress independently.
As you move forward with your pre-potty training, start to think more strategically about the outfits that your child is wearing and start to teach your child how to undress by herself.
If your toddler has tights and dresses or pants with buttons, it will be more frustrating and time consuming to remove clothes, which will slow down your potty training success.
On the other hand, your toddler will feel super proud and more motivated if she feels like she can get undressed all by herself before going to the bathroom.
Start a routine to use the toilet several times per day.
Now it’s time to get a little more serious about your pre-potty training routine. You’re still following your toddler’’s cues and certainly don’t expect him to be fully potty trained by tomorrow, but you do want to start using the toilet multiple times every day.
I recommend that you support your toddler to use the toilet in the morning, before and after naps, before and after meals, during diaper changes, anytime you notice your baby starting to go to the bathroom, and before bedtime. Download my sample pre-potty training schedule here.
Your toddler doesn’t need to sit on the toilet for long stretches of time. Instead, sit there for a few minutes, maybe read a potty book together, talk together, and then support your toddler to transition off of the toilet when he shows signs that he is done.
Flush all poo down the toilet.
Since you’re making the transition to diaper changes in the bathroom, I recommend that you start to flush all poo down the toilet.
For us, this means taking off our toddler’s dirty diaper and supporting him to sit on the potty and finish going to the bathroom. Once he gets off, he watches us to pour his poo into the toilet and then helps to close the lid and flush it away.
This is a great way to further help your child to understand that poo goes in the toilet while teaching this in a very gentle way.
Explain each step of potty training to your toddler.
Just like when you role model using the bathroom, use words to help explain different parts of the potty training process.
“You are wet. Let’s go to the bathroom and change clothes.”
“You are going potty!”
“Are you all done? Time to wipe.”
“Close the lid and flush the toilet.”
Adding these phrases and explanations will help your child begin to develop the language needed to communicate this as he gets older and helps him to better understand why he is doing these steps.
Add in sign language to aid communication.
I am such a big fan of baby sign language after seeing how helpful it has been with our baby. Adding in sign language is a must for our pre-potty training routine and one of my top recommendations for other parents starting to prepare for potty training..
Each time that you notice your baby going to the bathroom, prompt your toddler to use the toilet, or ask your child if she needs to go to the bathroom, add in the sign for toilet while saying these phrases.
After your toddler finishes going to the bathroom or when you ask, “Are you all done,” add in the sign for all done.
This will help your child to communicate earlier and more easily so he can tell you exactly what he needs.
Update on our pre-potty training progress:
After doing a little research and paying close attention to our toddler, we noticed that he checked off many boxes for potty training readiness and decided to move forward with gentle pre-potty training.
We added each of these 13 habits to our daily routine and started to support our 18 month old to use the bathroom multiple times each day.
I kid you not, the second time we put him on the toilet, he sat for 15 seconds and then peed AND pooped in the toilet! And over the first weekend of adding in trips to the toilet, he pooped 4 more times and peed several times.
After a very successful first week of pre-potty training, we are excited to keep watching his signs, encouraging his progress, and then move forward with full potty training for our toddler.
Need extra help and support?
Sometimes you just need to communicate with someone one-on-one to get personalized advice and support.
My customized email consultation and micro consultation packages are ideal for parents looking for a little extra help with potty training. And my mini consultation package is the perfect fit for parents who want extra resources and coaching throughout their potty training journey.